Key points on projects of Eco-Emballages (prevention-information consumer-recyclability)
Eco-Emballages is a founding member of the CNE. How does this relationship contribute to “the best of packaging”?
Eco-Emballages took part in the creation of the CNE because packaging is a social issue. Today more than ever, that is true; circular economy, food waste, and the ecological transition – of which recycling is one aspect – are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Packaging is still a central issue for all those concerned. The CNE, by gathering all of the stakeholders and stimulating collective intelligence, produced factual and shared information. It treats the subject as a whole, and strives to go beyond common preconceptions.
One thing of note currently is that Eco-Emballages is working on a project to extend waste sorting instructions to all plastic packaging. Can you tell us more, broadly speaking, about this project?
This project was launched in 2009. We need to develop plastic packaging recycling – as of today, only plastic bottles and flasks are included in the sorting instructions given to the French people. Yet this development is one of the levers needed to reach our goal of 75% recycling of household packaging, as fixed by the Grenelle Environnement conference.
We have experimented on a large scale for this project, covering all aspects of the recycling process.
We launched calls for projects in order to determine whether the existing technology can separate the variety of plastic packaging, and whether there are any outcomes for their recycling – if there are none, then a more selective sorting achieves nothing.
We also set up field experiments with local collectivities, for a total number of 3.7 million inhabitants, and assessed how more detailed waste sorting instructions were being perceived and how this affected the sorting itself.
Lastly, we collaborated with companies on projects to improve the recyclability of plastic packaging such as containers, tubes, skin packs, or yogurt cups.
What are the main conclusions we must draw?
Our experiments emphasize the fact that developing plastic recycling is an opportunity to modernize the network of French sorting centers. Before we can further develop sorting instructions, we need to build better-equipped and larger sorting centers, ones that can compare to those present in most of the other European countries.
Eco-Emballages is at present supporting a project to improve the recycling rate of plastic household packaging from the current 23% to over 50% in fifteen years. Additionally, the remainder of non-recyclable plastics will be recovered in supplementary sectors, as Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) notably.
The environmental benefit of this project has been calculated: roughly 750,000 tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions avoided by 2022, and one million tons by 2030. Quantities of recycled plastic would climb from 250,000 tons today to 675,000 tons in fifteen years. This would give recycling companies great development perspectives.
In 2016 Eco-Emballages will be coming up for re-accreditation. What projects do you have in the meantime?
Eco-Emballages suggested a recovery plan to the French Ministry of Ecology, to give a new impulse to household packaging recycling, which has been stagnating at 67% since 2011. This plan amounts to 90 million euro over three years and has several parts, such as developing selective sorting in regions where it is less used, raising citizen awareness, and, naturally, developing plastic packaging recycling. Appeals will be made in late 2014 for collectivities ready to widen plastic packaging recycling to all kinds of household packaging.
Experiments, however, have shown that such a project could only succeed if it took place within a controlled economic and industrial frame. If it were to be managed badly, widening sorting instructions to all plastic packaging could bring about high costs that none of the economic stakeholders would be able to pay. It would also have mediocre technological and environmental results if the low quality of the recycled products did not allow for recycling in good conditions. It is for this reason that the recovery plan includes aid for the modernization of sorting organization.
What about packaging design and recyclability?
Developing plastic packaging recycling is a job for all parties involved – companies are also being called upon to make packaging design evolve towards better recyclability, when it is compatible with what is expected from packaging.
The first call for projects on packaging recyclability led to a publication available on the Eco-Emballages website. We will be launching a new call for projects before the year is done, to fund research and development projects with companies, regarding packaging that could create problems during the sorting or recycling process. The contribution assessment of Eco-Emballages will of course also have to evolve in the coming years to match the evolution of the recycling process.
This project is very ambitious, but also realistic. It must rally all of the stakeholders. Recycling is the first environmental habit emphasized by citizens. In the current economic context, it is a great example for the ecological transition, thanks to the opportunities for economic development this topic opens up for the packaging and recycling industry.